Recently, several statements were released from the Board of General Superintendents. It is yet not clear to me if one of them specifically speaks for all of them, or not, the one titled “The Emergent Church-From the General Superintendents.” It is signed by Jesse Middendorf, but does not explicitly state that all the Generals are in accord with the statement, so I will not yet assume they all agree with it as written. So I will address my comments to Dr. Middendorf. The first document, called WE BELIEVE, indicated approval by the entire Board, and is essentially a re-affirmation of the core belief statement of our denomination. The Emerging Church document is what I want to focus on and share some thoughts and perhaps questions regarding its content, and what it means to us.
Dr. Middendorf, I would like to reach out to you and the other General Superintendents, and extend the hand of conversation, and of open dialogue, to sort out these issues and address the specific concerns many have. Are you willing to do that? I speak with this concern, not just from one person, but for pastors, evangelists, and laypeople all over the country, who are waiting for an unambiguous answer to the questions that still linger after this statement came out.
I am not an official spokesman, nor even any kind of official leader of Concerned Nazarenes. Just one of many who are trying to have a voice. Not all may be in 100% agreement with every word I say, but they join me in a unified concern at the direction that our beloved denomination has been going, because of emergent ideology and mystical practices.
I believe that most of what I say here speaks for those who have been disenfranchised from their churches of many years, who were stopped from speaking out and asking questions. I cry out for many students in the universities who are being ostracized by professors who despise their stance on scriptural inerrancy. I cry out for those groups of Nazarenes who have walked away from their churches, and started their own congregation, rather than stay and tolerate the very “aberrations” you allude to in this statement. I cry out for the Nazarene church that recently cut ties with our denomination and is now on their own, and the pastor who was recently fired for daring to speak against practices that are not even officially sanctioned by the church. I’m just a small voice, but I speak for many, and continue to do so, for whoever will listen.
I pray that soon there will be an opportunity to get into direct, complete and open dialogue with you and the rest of the leadership, so that these matters and issues can be addressed, and the Nazarene people will know where you and all of our leaders stand on the troubling issues that you say are there, but have not yet told us what they are specifically.
Here is the statement, and to allow you to follow along easier, I highlight my comments in blue text as you read:
The Emergent Church – From the General Superintendents
(G.S. Statement in black, my comments in blue)
We appreciate your concerns regarding the conversations surrounding “the emergent church.” The issues related to this topic are many. Some are helpful and positive; others are problematic and deeply troubling.
I agree. Unfortunately, this is a very general statement, and does not go into details. What are the helpful and positive issues? What are the problematic and deeply troubling ones? I hope you can share this with us very soon, because many Nazarenes also see very problematic and troubling issues happening in our denomination.
“The emergent church” is really somewhat of a misnomer. While there are many attributions which imply that there is a single focus or movement called “the emergent church,” in reality, the conversations range all over the map. Some people believe that there is a monolithic kind of conspiratorial entity that is seeking to undermine the church with heresy and immoral license.
Actually, Dr. Middendorf, there are many Nazarenes who are deeply troubled by what we see as heretical or false teachings that has crept into our universities and churches. We don’t claim there is an organized conspiracy, but we do believe that there is a like-minded philosophical agreement amongst the “emergents” that works just as effectively. We hope that the specifics of our concerns can be addressed by the leadership very soon. Those have been itemized many times by us, so I won’t repeat it here. A good summary would be the Concerned Nazarenes statement.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are people who view the whole concept of an emerging church as a positive and hopeful expression of the church seeking to genuinely come to terms with ministry in a complex and rapidly-changing culture, while seeking to make Biblical truth relevant. These people depend heavily on the authority of the Word of God and the power of the Holy Spirit to radically change lives, communities, and nations. They are often radically engaged with the brokenness in society through active, compassionate ministries that work hard to bring renewal and conversion.
I would argue that Biblical truth is always relevant on its own anyway. Also, the emergents who I and others have interacted with over the last several years, do not match up with the description of “depending heavily on the authority of the word of God.” We see often acasual contempt of the scriptures; a dismissal of folks like me, who according to emergents, are practicing bibliolatry, when we say God’s word is infallible; and the almost worshipful attitude towards books written by emergent leaders like Brian McLaren and Rob Bell, and on devotional books by mystics and universalists like Henri Nouwen. If these people that you describe in this way are out there, I have not encountered them yet.
Nazarene Theological Seminary (NTS) and some of our universities are engaged in the conversation in order to help correct some of the aberrations that are associated with some of the “emergent” churches.
You say there are aberrations. I agree, but again, I would love to see specifics about what these aberrations are. If you believe there are aberrations out there that can be dangerous to our spiritual lives, should you not tell us all, so that we can be aware of them? And I am sorry to say this, but we are troubled by some of these aberrations coming right out of the seminary itself, and we have specified those issues many times. Will there be some statements soon on the specifics of what you mean by these aberrations.
There are widely-read authors who readily identify themselves as “emergent church leaders.” While some of them are orthodox in their theology and views of Scripture, others embrace positions which we would view as far away from what is orthodox and acceptable.
Which leaders do you consider orthodox? And especially, can you tell us who these unorthodox leaders are? Should we not know their names, so we can take care and not recommend their books, or watch out if they are coming into our universities? Is Brian McLaren unorthodox? How about Leonard Sweet? Rob Bell? Tony Campolo? If they are far away from orthodoxy and unacceptable, should we not follow this biblical imperative?
Ephesians 5:6-11 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them. For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.
Yet even those authors and pastors who are not orthodox in their views of Scripture and its authority have an awareness of the need to make the church more engaged in society so as to bring about a radical change and improvement.
Does it matter whether they care about engaging the church in society, if their beliefs are unorthodox, which I assume means running contrary to our Nazarene doctrine and more importantly, runs contrary to scripture? Should we not shun, according to scripture, those who are contrary to the word and are divisive by teaching another gospel?
We do not endorse those “emergent churches” or leaders who are not orthodox in their theology. The involvement of many of our young pastors and students in the conversation is an attempt to embrace the positive dimensions while clearly articulating an orthodox interpretation of Scripture and theology.
By most definitions of what is genuinely meant by “emergent,” John Wesley more than fits the description.
I’m sorry, this was the statement that most jumped out at me and I could not disagree with you more! Here is a comment from someone else on a blog that speaks the same concerns I have with this: “I would love to listen to an encounter between Wesley and an emergent who sympathizes with, and glorifies, universalism, or maybe overhear Wesley’s response to an emergent’s heretical nonsense about varying theories of atonement and how the cross is false advertising for God…that ought to be a treat.”
So with all due respect John Wesley was not emergent in any way that reflects what today’s emergents think.
He was radically engaged in the social needs around him while clearly calling men and women to a radical commitment to Christ and to the fullness of the Spirit in cleansing and heart purity.
True, but John Wesley believed in scriptural inerrancy; the emergents laugh at that and treat the Bible as something that “contains” the word of God, denying its full and complete reliability.
That is the objective toward which Nazarenes, engaged in the conversations regarding the emergent church, are committed. It is a vital conversation, but one that also carries with it the risk of being misunderstood or being classified with positions which are not healthy or appropriate.
I’ve had the experience in the past year or so, to see that most emergents are engaged in a one way conversation that has little room and tolerance for those Nazarenes who reject their ideology and their disrespect for the supremacy of Christ and His infallible word.
We hope these thoughts are helpful to you. The issues are complex, and the rhetoric is sometimes shrill and angry. We are hopeful that we can be patient with what is a phase in a conversation that is already beginning to wind down in some areas even while it is just now being engaged in by others. Hopefully, we can move beyond the mischaracterizations and embrace what is legitimate while we readily and without hesitation reject the aberrations.
Again, not specific yet, with all due respect. What are these mischaracterizations, and what is being mischaracterized? What is legitimate that we can embrace? What are specifically the aberrations that we should reject? Are we to continue speculating as to what you mean? Or will we get a more direct dialogue and discussion about what aligns with scripture, and what does not? That is what matters, is it not, with these issues, whatever they may be?
We pray for you as you work with your people through this issue. We are not at all embracing anything heretical, but we want to engage in conversations with our young Nazarenes who want a vibrant church that is committed to our theology and actively engaged in ministry to the lost and broken people around us.
Dr. Middendorf, I don’t know what you are embracing personally. What I do know is that many Nazarenes are embracing heresy and false teachings, and we need to know if what they embrace is heresy to you, or is it orthodox? Yes, we believe in a vibrant church also, but it must be committed to defending the gospel as given to us by Jesus and the apostles, and we believe that another gospel is being preached in many parts of our denomination now.
Jesse C. Middendorf
Church of the Nazarene
Thank you for this statement, Dr. Middendorf. It is a start, but please hear me when I say, it is simply not enough for many Nazarenes who are hurting today, or worried about the future of their children when they send them to college someday. I pray that the next statement will take a stand on the specific issues that we have addressed so many times, but are yet to hear an answer.
“The entirety of Your word is truth, And every one of Your righteous judgments endures forever.” Psalm 119:160